Fighting Games: What Is Frame Data?

Quick Links

  • What Are Startup Frames?
  • What Are Active Frames?
  • What Are Recovery Frames?
  • What Is Recovery On Hit?
  • What Is Recovery On Block?
  • Using Frame Data
  • Frame Data Resources

When starting your fighting game journey, “frame data” is probably something that you are going to hear other people talk about. Or maybe you will hear them refer to attacks as “safe on block” or “punishable”. But when you look into this arcane frame data, what you see are giant tables filled with numbers. Suddenly you are back in math class and the panic starts to set in.

Fear not, friends. Frame data is actually very simple. While it is intimidating at first for everyone, we assure you that within minutes this guide will have you understanding the basics. And with a solid knowledge of frame data, you will instantly have a far better understanding of literally every fighting game. Your road starts here!

While we are using Dan from Street Fighter 5 as an example in this guide, the information on frame data here applies to all fighting games.

What Are Startup Frames?

Startup frames are, appropriately, the first frames of an attack. During these frames, you will be vulnerable. So, if your attack has twelve startup frames, any other attack that collides with your character during those first frames will interrupt your attack.

The more startup frames there are, the slower your attack. So, if you are looking for something quick and punchy, you want there to be fewer startup frames.

What Are Active Frames?

Active frames represent the frames where your attack can connect with and damage your opponent. If you are throwing out a big punch with your character, and your opponent comes in contact with it during the punch’s active frames, then they will be hit by the attack.

Active frames aren't unimportant, as normal attacks that have tons of active frames can be useful when interrupting attacks (think anti-air attacks).

What Are Recovery Frames?

Recovery frames are the same as startup frames, in that you are completely vulnerable; the only difference is that they come after the active frames instead of coming before them. So, if you throw out Dan’s heavy kick in Street Fighter 5, and you miss, you are going to be a sitting duck for a staggering twenty-two frames. This means that any attack that has a startup quicker than twenty-two frames (which will be most attacks) will be able to hit Dan (as long as they can reach him) and he won’t be able to do a thing about it.

If you have ever heard the term “whiff punish” this is what people are describing. Hitting people who have missed their attack while they are locked into the recovery frames.

What Is Recovery On Hit?

We aren’t done with recovery, yet. There is also recovery on hit and recovery on block. When it comes to an attack’s recovery on hit, it is almost always better than its recovery on block. Typically, an attack will be "plus" on hit. That's a good thing! The more positive frames, the better.

Combos exist because attacks recover on hit fast enough for you to land a second attack immediately afterward (due to the startup of the second attack being the same or shorter than the recovery on hit of the first attack). Very rarely will an attack be "negative" on hit. It is something that exists, but typically attacks are "plus" on hit.

Frame Traps

You may think that being +2 on block is sorta useless if the fastest attack in the game is three frames on startup, but nothing could be further from the truth. Being plus means that your opponent will have to just keep blocking your attacks (as you will be ahead of them by multiple frames), and if they try to throw out their own attack they will always eat a counter-attack.

This is the quick-and-dirty definition of a frame trap. If you opponent hammers on their quickest attack, thinking that they can sneak something through, they will be hit every time. That is the “trap” part of the frame trap.

What Is Recovery On Block?

Recovery on block is a huge part of playing a fighting game. This may be the single most important piece of frame data. If the fastest attack in the game is three frames (which is pretty typical in fighting games), then that means that any move that is -2 frames on block is officially safe.

We call it “safe” because there is nothing your opponent can throw at you that will be fast enough to punish your attack. Knowing which of your attacks is safe is extremely useful, because it means that you can use those attacks a little more freely, knowing that if they at least connect with your opponent, even if they are blocked, they won’t be punished.

Using Frame Data

The first use for frame data is to just help you understand when to best use your attacks. So, in the hierarchy of recovery, you will be at your most vulnerable when you whiff your attack. This is why you should only throw out attacks that have excellent recovery freely when you are in neutral (when neither play has an advantage), as high committal normals will often get you punished.

Having an attack be blocked will leave you the next most vulnerable. While many attacks cannot be punished on block, some can be. So this is an excellent example of when having a rough idea of your character’s frame data is super useful. Lastly, there is recovery on hit, which is when you are actively whacking your opponent and completely in control. There is little to be cautious about here.

Keep in mind that this isn’t to say that you should never use an attack that isn’t safe on block. Many of these attacks will lead into big opportunities. You just need to know when to use them. The perfect example of this is the famously invincible dragon punch (to be referred to as a “DP” from here on out).

Dan’s EX DP, the Koryuken, is a potent attack that is completely invincible for the first six frames, which means that it will beat every other attack. However, it is -38 on block. You read that correctly. This means that your opponent will be able to hit you with their biggest, most damaging special moves. It is still a powerful attack, it is just a big gamble. Basically, you need to know which attacks are negative on block, because they require a greater degree of restraint.

Then, of course, being able to read frame data gives you a quick way to understand how to potentially punish your opponents. If you are frequently being hit by an attack, look that attack's frame data up. You may find that it is punishable; so now you can start crafting an appropriate response. Similarly, you can figure out what some of your most potent tools are through reading frame data for your own character.

Of course, fighting games are more than just frame data. They are spacing. They are timing. They are high-low mixups. They are cross-ups. They are mind games. However, don’t be fooled, all of these things are associated with the frame data. Those who know how to read frame data will be able to quickly address issues and adjust their gameplay strategy appropriately. Sure, you can acquire a feel for frame data naturally, but the process is so much slower. Everyone plays by the same rules; knowing how to read frame data just means you have a more nuanced understanding of what those rules are.

Frame Data Resources

So, now you have an understanding of how it works, where the heck do you actually get your hands on this sweet, sweet frame data? Well, there are a couple of ways to get your grimy fingers on it. For starters, most games now have a training mode that will tell you how “safe” or “unsafe” an attack is. This includes Street Fighter 5, King Of Fighter 15, and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. However, most of these training mode options are pretty limited. Also, some modern games, like Guilty Gear Strive, don't include anything in the way of frame data.

But fret not, there are some amazing online resources that will give you everything you need. Capcom themselves has provided all the frame data you could ever need for Street Fighter 5 on their official site. For King Of Fighters games, such as the recently released King of Fighter 15, Dream Cancel is a fantastic resource. And for all your anime fighting game needs (so everything from Guilty Gear Strive to Dragon Ball Fighterz to Persona 4 Arena Ultimax) Dustloop is your best friend.

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